Parents and teachers play an essential role in guiding a child's development of a healthy will. Unfortunately, all too often understanding the nature of the will – its purpose, aspects, qualities, and stages of development - is not taught in schools of higher education nor to parents and children. How unfortunate so little attention is paid to helping children develop a will that will enable them to have a healthy, meaningful, compassionate, and productive life. The process of developing a healthy will, as a teenager or adult, begins during the first years of life.
The intent of this essay is to introduce parents to the early development of four major aspects of a healthy will – strong will, skillful will, good will, and transpersonal will. These aspects serve as the foundation for choosing to have a life of purpose and integrity and are intended to be regularly exercised to stay healthy and strong.
The four aspects of the will develop in stages that overlap with one another. The first aspect of the will to emerge in early life is the strong will. A strong will provides the energy or power to develop the other aspects of the will throughout life. Parents witness a child's strong will when they view the child as being stubborn, willful, and only thinking about what they want. The child may emphatically say "no" or "it's mine" or have a temper tantrum when not getting something he or she wants. Yet, having a strong will is vital for future development of the will. When parents and teachers lovingly re-direct the child's will energy, the child learns over time to use their energy efficiently and creatively. Having a strong-willed child is challenging, yet it means that the child has great potential once he or she learns to channel strong will energy in meaningful, creative, skillful, and loving ways.
A child's skillful will first appears in play activities, such as stacking blocks, pretend play, and helping Mom or Dad in the kitchen or raking the yard. However, it is not until the child begins school that the skillful will makes a major leap in development and begins a focused journey throughout life. Combined with the strong will, the child has the energy to develop a strategy for everything, selecting the most effective way to attain a desired result with the least amount of energy expended. They learn skills and knowledge and how to problem solve. The child may learn the skills of certain sports or how to play a musical instrument. Appropriate behavior with other children and with adults in various settings is also a skill learned at this time. A strong skillful will can compensate for a low energy strong will.
Permeating behaviors and activities of a strong and skillful skill is the good will. During childhood, young and later adulthood, a person unifies love with strong will and skillful will, moving from an attitude of will-clashing to cooperation and an understanding of right relations between individuals, groups, and nations.
Transpersonal will involves the movement of energy of love and beauty from the spiritual to the physical plane and becomes integrated with the strong, skillful, and good wills. This is how inspired ideas are perceived. A child can be aware of this will yet it generally becomes a focus in one's adulthood.
Authentic Montessori schools direct rather than impose the strong, skillful, and good wills. When the aspects of the will are implemented with awareness and support, children emerge from years of learning the Montessori way of life bestowed with inner strength. They share their considerable skills, and are poised with a willingness to say, do, and be what it means to live a life of making constructive and healthy choices, moment to moment, year to year. And, if they don't make a helpful or accurate choice, they can use their skillful will to learn from their misjudgment and make a new choice.
Roberto Assagioli, The Act of Will. Amherst, MA: Synthesis Center Press, 2010.
Susan Trout, Born to Serve. Alexandria, VA: Institute for the Advancement of Service, 2007.